Living in a Garbage Can

For the past two years and two months, I have resided in a garbage can. The smells of old garbage, urine, and human funk permeate the air of my surroundings, and stray cats yowl in the middle of the night. The garbage can where I live actually has a name and it is Parkway Gardens Apartments, a federally subsidized low-income housing unit on the South Side of Chicago.

How did a college educated individual like me end up living in a garbage can? After getting laid-off in August of 2007 from my job as an administrative assistant, it seemed like the Furies of Greek mythology were after me. Other than temp work, I could not find a job, full or part-time, and I could not afford the rent at my previous residence. I decided to look on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website for subsidized housing.

This is my second stint in subsidized housing. The first stint was from 2002 to 2007. During that time, I went to college, received a Bachelor’s degree and maintained a 3.6 average, obtained a full-time job and my eldest daughter graduated from high school with a 4.2 grade point average, and then I moved. While receiving help from the government, a multitude of men did not live with me, nor did I have any more children, the stereotypical things that those poor, trifling black single mothers who receive government assistance are supposed to do. There is a concept amongst the common consensus that low-income housing is not supposed to be permanent, but rather a stepping stone to a better life and that is true. However, I did exactly what society told me to do (bettered myself and my children) and I almost ended up homeless. I was faced with the choice of residing in a shelter or Parkway Gardens, and I chose Parkway.

I have resided in some real flophouses during my lifetime but Parkway Gardens takes the cake. As a native South Sider, I have known about Parkway Gardens my entire life, but one has to live here to understand the madness that is Parkway. The stuff that goes on in Parkway is unbelievable considering that it is right down the street from the University of Chicago. Drug dealing, gang-banging, whoring; everything goes in Parkway Gardens! The filth is insidious and pervasive, the kind that follows you because no matter how hard you clean your apartment, the smell is there. At least it is to me. My son says that our apartment is fine but I am so paranoid, it is ridiculous.

But this story is not about me, but about how HUD is the biggest slumlord in the United States. There is no accountability for the owners of the properties that HUD gives monies to for rent payments. These owners are receiving millions of dollars from the government but put very little of said money into the general maintenance of the properties, leaving people to live in abject squalor at the taxpayers’ expense.

I have called the multihousing unit hotline number that HUD has on its website several times to complain, but I was told that HUD has nothing to do with the upkeep; all they do is pay the rent. It is up to the owners and property management to take care of everything. I just want to know what stupid individual came up with the idea to take accountability from HUD and give it to the property owners who just want to make a buck.

The Tea Partiers and the Republicans are constantly carrying on about government waste and trying to slash Medicare and Medicaid, but they need to look into the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development because millions of dollars are going to waste. And by the way, Parkway Gardens Apartments has been sold to a real estate in New York for forty million dollars. Yes, forty million dollars for a 694 unit garbage can that houses over one thousand families. It is also rumored that Parkway makes over eight million dollars a year from rental subsidies all thanks to the largesse of HUD. Rather than looking for ways to cut and divert our attention to systems and programs that, while not always perfect, provide a benefit for the public good and well-being, politicians should actually take a closer examination at programs and systems (e.g. HUD) that need to either be amended or gentrified or the management carved and served in time for Thanksgiving.

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